Microsoft Partners Praise Windows 8, Question Whether Windows Tablets Can Succeed

Solution providers are offering praise for the technical advances Microsoft has made to the nascent Windows 8, especially the synergy between the desktop operating system and Microsoft's Windows Phone OS.

But opinions vary on how much demand there will be for Windows 8 with the current (and successful) Windows 7 release having debuted in July 2009. Windows 8 is expected to be generally available sometime in 2012.

"The exciting thing about this is that Microsoft is looking to make their OS homogenous across all devices," said Ralph Serzo, vice president of client technology at Primary Support Solutions, a New York-based solution provider and Microsoft partner. "This has a lot of potential for mobile/remote users, as well as standard desktop users, allowing them to maintain symmetry across the multitude of devices that are flooding the market -- tablets, phones, desktops, etc."

Earlier this month Microsoft offered the first significant look at Windows 8, with demonstrations of an early version of the software at the All Things D "D9" conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., and the Computex show in Taipei, Taiwan.

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Microsoft is developing versions of Windows 8 that will run on tablets and other mobile devices, finally putting Microsoft in competition with Apple's iPad and a raft of Android-based devices.

While there is much anticipation over the versions of Windows 8 Microsoft is developing to run on tablet computers, some partners are skeptical about Microsoft's chances of success against Apple's popular iPad and Android-based devices.

"I do believe Microsoft missed the boat here," said Andrew Kretzer, sales and marketing director at Bold Data Technology, a Fremont, Calif.-based solution provider. "I think you will always have those partners and customers who will wait for Redmond's answer to a particular technical question. However, Android and [Apple's] iOS are already part of the corporate IT architecture -- smart phones are an entrenched reality in all levels of business and that is only going to intensify.

"I believe that the movement to tablets in corporate America is going to be viewed as a logical, vertical move up from the smart phone, as opposed to a move down from the Microsoft desktop, although the end result may indeed be the same," he said.

Observers noted that the Windows 8 user interface is similar to the Windows Phone 7 interface, right down to its multi-touch capability and use of "tiles" to launch applications.

"That was the first thing that struck me," said Dave Sobel, CEO of Fairfield, Va.-based Evolve Technologies, referring to the Windows 8 user interface. "It's the Windows Phone UI integrated with [desktop] Windows."

Next: Is Microsoft Too Late To Crack The Tablet Market?

Unanswered questions include how easily users can switch between the different interfaces and how quickly ISVs will embrace the UI. "Third parties have to get onboard early with this stuff," he said.

"It looks like they took the mobile OS and re-skinned it for the desktop. Which I like. It's easier," said Ronnie Parisella, director of information technology at the Power Consulting Group, a New York-based solution provider. And he thinks Windows 8 will be "killer" when it's running on a tablet device.

Others aren't as impressed. "It appears that Microsoft is content with [taking] a 'follow me' approach to business," said Vincent Paragone, executive consultant and owner at KK Enterprises Inc., a solution provider in Huntsville, Ala. "Creating a new operating system that mimics what Apple has been doing is unfortunate. I would like to see a strong push for voice recognition and voice as a primary input device."

Microsoft is developing versions of Windows 8 that will run on tablet computers built around ARM system-on-a-chip microprocessors from Nvidia, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments. The company is reportedly trying to get each chip maker to work with a single device manufacturer in an effort to get Windows 8 tablets to market more quickly.

With the success of Apple's iPad and the proliferation of Android-based tablets, however, Microsoft will be entering an already crowded market. Can it catch up?

"I don't think it's too late for Microsoft's tablets at all," said Travis Fisher, executive vice president at Inacom Information Systems, a Madison, Wis.-based solution provider. He thinks Windows-based tablets, combined with Office and a line-of-business application, will be more attractive for some business users than current tablet computers. "The tablet boom is just now hitting that exponential growth curve, so there's plenty of market out there to capture. Early adopters of the iPad might be a harder sell, but you can't be everything to everybody."

Fisher does wonder whether a Windows 8-based tablet can compete price-wise. "How much is Microsoft going to charge manufacturers for the OS?" he asked?

"A variety of enterprise customers out there don't want tablets, at least not yet. So yes, they can wait, especially for Windows tablets that can be centrally imaged, managed and secured," said Andrew Brust, CTO at Tallan, a Microsoft gold partner, and CEO of Blue Badge Insights, a strategy consulting and advisory service company for Microsoft customers and partners. "But companies who want tablets today, be it for their sales forces, people in the field or their execs, are already buying into iPad, no question," he said.

Brust added that the iPad is entrenched, while Android tablets are not, and iOS and Android dominate the smartphone arena. "But the two-year upgrade cycle means that balance of power can be disrupted," he said.

"I think that people like the tablet experience, which is why they’ve purchased iPad and droid based tablets," said Tony DiBenedetto, CEO of Tribridge, a Tampa-based IT services and business consulting company, and Microsoft partner. "However, the Operating Systems for these tablets are the same ones created for phones -- iPhone IOS and droid OS, so it is severely limited in functionality. Windows 8 is based on the full feature set available within Windows, a rich user experience -- it’s a huge difference for companies looking to run business applications. A full-featured, stateful application will be able to be run natively on the Windows 8 platform -- not so for droid and iPad.

"It would seem to me this will be the first true business tablet based on an enterprise platform instead of a consumer platform -- business users will be giving it serious consideration," he said.

Next: Too Soon For Windows 8?

Others aren't as optimistic about Microsoft's tablet efforts. "I doubt that partners will wait for Windows 8 to be deployed to deliver tablet PCs. Why? Because the designs of any PC have a limited shelf life and when Windows 8 ships a year from now there will be new designs," said Chris De Herrera, a business control manager at Bank of America who operates the PocketPC FAQ Website.

"Consumers are looking to iPad and Android Tablet PCs for features like instant on, easy-to-use applications, push e-mail with notifications, calendar notifications, etc., that Windows doesn’t have right now. Also it's not clear whether or not Windows 8 will address these features either," he said.

The Windows 8 demonstrations also raise the question of whether it's too soon for a new major release of the desktop operating system, given that Microsoft released Windows 7 to manufacturing in July 2009.

Sobel at Evolve Technologies noted that Windows 8 won't be out until sometime next year, putting it two-and-a-half or even three years after Windows 7. "That's a pretty reasonable amount of time," he said, pointing out that most software vendors, pushed by Software-as-a-Service vendors who upgrade their applications several times a year, are moving to a more rapid pace of product releases.

"I don't think there is much danger here, but each organization is different in how they handle OS upgrades," said Serzo at Primary Support Solutions. "The fact that Windows 8 will be able to handle Windows 7 applications, drivers, etc, will make the transition far simpler than a Windows XP to Windows 7 migration."

But De Herrera suspects that Windows 8 will have new hardware requirements given its improved graphics speed and the improved user interface. (Microsoft has not disclosed any details about Windows 8's requirements.) Such changes, along with the chore of testing and rolling out a new OS, has pushed many companies to implement every other Windows release -- and in some cases every third release.

"I think this is a case of Microsoft being damned if they do and damned if they don't," said Kretzer at Bold Data. "They were rightly taken out to the shed for the long gap in upgrades from Windows XP, but we all know how long corporate America tends to take to do major software updates and rollouts. However, I think that Microsoft needs to do this -- they've been pegged as a stagnant company that lacks innovation and market sensitivity."

Others think it may be a bit too soon for a new Windows release. "The vast majority of my customers are just now accepting Windows 7," said Paragone at KK Enterprises. "Windows 8 should be a Windows 7-Plus and not a new release."

"I would like to see Windows 8 released at a later date," agreed Fisher at Inacom. "Between the Vista bomb and the recession, it seems the collective memory of most people skips over Vista altogether. Windows 7 is solid, and a great operating system that tends to make end users happy with Microsoft again. Microsoft risks scaring non-technical end users that are resistant to change. Early 2012 seems too soon as people are just now starting to buy large numbers of Win7 computers from us. I wouldn’t mind seeing it cook for another year for an even slicker product.

"But at the same time when Microsoft is ready to launch they can’t put all that investment on hold, can they?"